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*** John Travolta gives a gentle and touching performance as an ordinary man whose brainpower miraculously zooms after a mysterious light-flash from the sky zaps him one night. John Turteltaub directed the drama, which lapses into medical jargon and new-age cliches near the end, but it scores telling points with its respect for intelligence and optimistic view of human potential. V P SSkip to next paragraph
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*** Sentimental, gentle, depressing.
PICNIC (Not rated)
**** Reissue of Joshua Logan's brilliantly filmed 1955 drama about a handsome drifter who blows into a sleepy town just before the big Labor Day celebration, sweeps all the young women off their feet, and leads one of them to change her life forever. William Holden, Kim Novak, Cliff Robertson, and Rosalind Russell head the superb cast, and George Duning composed the irresistible score. Based on William Inge's play.
THE POMPATUS OF LOVE (Not rated)
* A playwright, a therapist, and an avant-garde clothing designer are among the characters of this featherweight comedy-drama, which focuses on young New Yorkers who can't stop yakking about their personal and professional problems. Directed by Richard Schenkman from a screenplay he wrote with Jon Cryer and Adam Oliensis, who play two of the main roles. The odd title comes from an obscure line in a Steve Miller Band rock song. P S V
* The time is 1969, shortly before a police raid on a New York bar gave new force to the movement for gay civil rights; the main characters are homosexual men coping with various personal and romantic problems. The late Nigel Finch directed the drama, which would be more involving if it did a better job of integrating its fictional stories with the political issues raised by the Stonewall incident itself. V S P
A TIME TO KILL (R)
* A white attorney defends a black worker on trial in a Mississippi town for killing the men who abducted and raped his young daughter. There's strong acting by Matthew McConaughey as the lawyer, Samuel L. Jackson as the defendant, and Sandra Bullock as a law student eager to help, among others. But the drama's attack on racism would be more persuasive if it rejected vigilante justice and recognized that hatred and violence of all kinds must be condemned if evils like bigotry are ever to be eradicated. Directed by Joel Schumacher and based on John Grisham's popular novel. V S P
*** Riveting, unsettling, surprisingly witty.
* The life and times of several young Scottish drug addicts. It's hard to recall a movie that etches the horrors of drug dependence more shatteringly than this British tragicomedy, which Danny Boyle has directed with ferocious energy. But moviegoers should be strongly warned that it contains over-the-top vulgarity of every description in nearly every scene. S V N P
** Iconoclastic, jarring, complex; ranges from the hilarious to the horrific; compelling but difficult to watch.
WALKING AND TALKING (R)
** Amelia and Laura have been best friends for ages, but their relationship gets rocky as Laura prepares to marry her boyfriend while Amelia can't even decide whether to date the local video-store clerk. Perky performances by Catherine Keener and Anne Heche give warmth and humor to the cheerfully offbeat screenplay by Nicole Holofcener, who also directed the comedy. But it contains vulgar language and discussion of sex. P
WHEN PIGS FLY (Not rated)
*** An eccentric jazz musician makes the unexpected acquaintance of two ghosts, a woman and a little girl who lived very different lives a century apart. The story is a mere trifle, but it's energized by solid performances from Alfred Molina as the musician, Marianne Faithfull as the older ghost, and the wonderful Seymour Cassell as the villain. Sara Driver directed and Robby Mller did the fine-looking camera work. V